After months of confusion and fear, there is finally a light at the end of the socially distanced tunnel: the FDA has approved two coronavirus vaccines. Detailed plans to distribute from pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna are already underway, with additional vaccines expected to gain FDA approval in 2021.
Unfortunately, whenever there’s big news, scammers aren’t far behind. Almost as soon as the news of the Pfizer approval hit the headlines, a robocall went out in Rochester, NY, offering a front place in line for the vaccine at the modest price of just $79.99. Of course, the call was placed by a ring of scammers and paying the requested fee will not position individuals to receive the vaccine any sooner.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have all shared reports of additional scams in which criminals exploit the public’s interest in coronavirus vaccines to obtain personally identifiable information and money through various schemes.
Don’t get scammed! Here’s all you need to know about coronavirus vaccine scams and how to avoid them:
The vaccine distribution
It’s important to learn these facts about how the vaccine will be distributed to help avoid falling victim to a vaccine scam:
- Initially, the vaccine will only be available in very limited quantities. There are strict protocols about who will be first in line to receive it, such as nursing home residents and health care workers. Exact guidelines vary by state, but you cannot pay or sign up to jump the line.
- The vaccine will only be distributed through trusted resources, like doctors or health clinics. It will not be available on the internet or through an online pharmacy.
- The vaccine will be distributed to eligible citizens at no cost. Health care providers may charge an administration fee, which will be reimbursed through insurance companies, but there will be no upfront cost for insured individuals.
- There is no need to share personal information on the phone, such as your Social Security number or checking account details, to receive the vaccine.
Beware of these signs of COVID-19 vaccine scams:
- Advertisements for vaccines through social media platforms, email or phone calls from unsolicited sources.
- Offers for early access to the vaccine — for a price.
- Offers to undergo additional medical testing or procedures when obtaining a vaccine.
- Marketers offering to sell and/or ship doses of a vaccine, domestically or internationally, in exchange for payment.
- Unsolicited emails or phone calls from someone claiming to represent a medical office, insurance company or COVID-19 vaccine center requesting personal and/or medical information to determine your eligibility to participate in clinical vaccine trials or to help you obtain the vaccine.
- Claims of FDA approval for a vaccine that cannot be verified.
- Individuals contacting you in person, by phone or by email to tell you the government or government officials require you to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
- Stay on high alert when online
Cybersecurity expert Mike Stamas was not surprised to hear of the $79.99 scam connected to Pfizer. Stamas, cofounder of GreyCastle Security in Troy, N.Y., says the pandemic serves as a reminder to the public to adhere to general online safety precautions, including using the updated version of your operating system and antivirus and antimalware software, checking that websites are secure, avoiding clicks and downloads from unsolicited sources, using two-factor authentication and being careful not to share any personal information with unverified contacts.
Still worried about being targeted by a coronavirus vaccine scam? You can protect yourself by staying updated with the latest vaccine developments. Check your state’s health department’s website to learn about vaccine distribution in your state and look up general vaccine information at fda.gov.
If you believe you’ve been targeted by a coronavirus vaccine scam, report the scam to the FTC at ftc.gov. You can also file a complaint with your state attorney general through consumerresources.org.